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Bellevue endorses NACTO guide + Could they beat Seattle to building a downtown protected bike lane?

Could downtown Bellevue streets start to look more like this? Concept image from NACTO
Imagine if 108th Ave NE in downtown Bellevue looked more like this. Concept image from NACTO

The City of Bellevue has endorsed the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide, joining an ever-growing list of cities in North America looking to pool their experiences and knowledge into a guide for more active, efficient and safe streets.

Seattle’s largest nearby neighbor is currently full of very wide and unfriendly streets. But it’s growing population, dense urban core and planned transit expansions leave the outdated streets screaming for modern redesigns that activate the unrealized walking and biking demand already there.

The city is moving forward, but its streets are looking backwards to an era when people walking, biking and using transit were considered secondary to cars. But a vibrant city and business environment requires streets that are safe and comfortable for everyone.

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“In our work in Downtown and in other mixed use activity areas in the the city, our focus is on creating places for people that are safe, vibrant, sustainable and livable,” said Bellevue Transportation Department Director David Berg in his endorsement letter to NACTO. “It is my responsibility as Transportation Director to provide the tools to help my staff plan for, design and deliver transportation infrastructure that meets the multiple functions of our streets.”

Berg took the Bellevue position after Goran Sparrman left in 2011. Sparrman is now the Interim Director at SDOT as Mayor Ed Murray’s office searches for a permanent Director.

Bellevue is not Seattle, nor does it want to follow in its footsteps. That’s why now is a great chance for Bellevue to pie its neighbor in the face. Seattle’s endless delay in building protected lanes downtown leaves an opening for Bellevue to beat them to it. Seattle is just now in the very early stages of an outreach effort to come up with a plan to install a protected bike lane downtown in “two to five years,” according to Councilmember Tom Rasmussen.

Bellevue could build a protected bike lane through its downtown this year if its leaders want to. It would be a boon to bike commuting and retail in downtown Bellevue, and it would be pretty embarrassing to Seattle, which likes to talk a big game about its bike-friendliness but stalls progress in the face of nearly every big step.

Seattle is a US leader in bicycling, but that’s in large part because it had a head start over other cities. The number of cities working to unseat Seattle is growing. And as Rasmussen noted in a recent press conference about the Bike Master Plan, the pressure is “coming from surprising places, places with more severe climates than Seattle like Chicago and Minneapolis.” Washington DC is probably the best example of a city on Seattle’s heels, as our nation’s capitol was way behind Seattle in bike commuting just a few years ago, and is now poised to pass Seattle.

And maybe now Bellevue will add some pressure? The ball is in their court.

Here’s the endorsement letter:

Bellevue WA USDG Endorsement Letter 03-28-14 by tfooq

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7 responses to “Bellevue endorses NACTO guide + Could they beat Seattle to building a downtown protected bike lane?”

  1. Gary

    I will be 100% amazed if Bellevue builds a safe cycletrack. The thing on West Lake Samamish is terrible as is the bit over on 108th. So far I haven’t seen anyone who actually rides a bike designing these things for Bellevue.

    1. Andres Salomon

      Ditto. Bellevue seems to have gone out of their way to make their streets completely unfriendly towards bikes. Adopting the NACTO guide was absolutely shocking. Maybe they’ll improve things, but I’m not holding my breath.

      (Bellevue, please prove me wrong!)

      1. The Lake Sammamish Parkway and 108th paths are awful because of how many driveway crossings there are, most with horrible sight lines because there aren’t any sidewalks. The paths substitute for the missing sidewalks, and that’s about all they do. It doesn’t help that they’re along what are mostly through routes for cyclists. But it’s hard to do a whole lot better without more street width.

        Downtown Bellevue, for all its flaws, does have sidewalks and few uncontrolled intersections — standard bike lane and cycletrack designs should work fine there.

        I don’t know if you’ve seen Bellevue’s plans for connecting the existing 520 trail to the future floating bridge trail, mostly using on-street bike lanes. They have overhead plan images somewhere online and they looked pretty good to me when I looked at them, making effective use of two-phase lefts to avoid conflicts. I think that’s the best Bellevue bike plan currently. The most frustrating things are that they haven’t committed to do anything downtown, that they consider 108th a primary corridor between downtown and I-90 and plan to do nothing to fix any of the flatter routes (the bumpy boardwalk trail through the marsh to get to LWB, or Bellevue Way, or 112th… any of these would be great!).

  2. Neel Blair

    They do have the street real estate to do it, if they wanted to prioritize it. The 6+ lanes of traffic with no street parking on almost every E-W street downtown. My guess is they won’t prioritize one of those lanes as bike right of way. Downtown Bellevue is a mall mentality – everywhere. Drive your cars in and out, scurry to safety inside. There are 1/2 blocks of sidewalk that are all driveway apron next to a parking lot, next to a 5 lane street, with little or not parking strip/setback. It’s not safe for anyone outside a car. It’s a choice – and they’ve made it. If they want to reverse the trend, they have a lot more to do than install a couple bike lanes.

  3. I have spent the better part of my teenage and adult life biking in and around Bellevue and hoping for improvements. While there have been piecemeal improvements along the way, the city is largely a “Car Sewer”, to quote one urban planner I spoke with. I continue to hope Bellevue’s leaders “get it” but I have pretty much abandoned hope. I bike to Mercer Island when I want to grab a quick bite to eat at Stopsky’s Deli, pick up some books at Island Books, or a few groceries from QFC. Bellevue has been, and for the foreseeable future will be, a disappointment when it comes to bikeability.

  4. Gary

    I ride from the Phantom lake area to Seattle daily and that works well. The perimeter of Bellevue is fine. I can get to the Sammamish slough trail easily. Or Crossroads or Microsoft. Downtown…forget about it.

  5. […] Spring, Bellevue endorsed the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide, which recommends 10-foot lanes, stating that “lane widths of 10 feet are appropriate in […]

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